Visualizing People and Relationships

While I’m thinking about digraphs and visualization, I want to
describe another idea for a website I have been mulling over. It would
offer a way to see the relationships between people using a digraph
rendering engine.

There would be a central organizing theme for a given rendering. It
might be the current political scandal, an emergency response plan, a
corporate organizational chart, or any other theme by which people are
related to each other. Each theme would have a rendering of the current
members and their relationships, as a digraph. Users could add people
(nodes) and relationships (edges). Relationships could have supporting
documentation in the form of URLs (useful for scandal tracking).

The UI would not need to be very complicated. To add information, you
just need a simple form with 2 fields for node names, a description of
the relationship, and optional URLs to supporting documentation. You
could get fancy with auto-completion of the node names, but that’s just
a detail. Editing a node/edge uses a similarly simple form. Each theme
page would also have an RSS feed, of course, of changes.

It would also be useful to be able to see the themes a node was
involved in, as an alternate view. So an individual lawmaker might show
up in a theme for a campaign and a general legislative topic.

As with any social site, suppressing malicious input might be tricky.
Using the wikipedia model of allowing anyone to edit anything, flag
content as suspicious, and block edits to prevent flame-type wars might
be enough.

All of the graphs should be available as image files. The question is,
are they rendered on the fly or on some regular basis? That would depend
on how expensive the rendering is. Obviously they only need to be
re-rendered after a change, so we want to cache the output files.